It's getting closer. Can you feel it?
In early February, just a few short months from now, Nick Diaz will return to the UFC from a year-long suspension. Diaz was suspended after testing positive for marijuana—his second offense in Nevada, hence the stupid and unjust length of the suspension—after losing to Carlos Condit last February.
The welterweight landscape has changed quite a bit since Diaz went on hiatus. Georges St-Pierre returned and put an emphatic stamp on his claim to the welterweight title. Johny Hendricks vaulted to the top of the contender's list by beating Josh Koscheck and crushing Martin Kampmann. And Condit, despite a losing effort to St-Pierre, proved that he's every bit one of the best welterweights in the world.
But there's still something missing, and that something is Nick Diaz. In the following slides, I'm going to tell you why.
There's nothing like covering a Nick Diaz fight, I can promise you that.
I always eagerly anticipate fight weeks when the elder Diaz is involved. He creates a sense of drama around a fight that few others can match by building up such hatred in his mind toward his opponent—and it doesn't really matter who it is—that it can't help but spill out whenever they're put in the same room.
Witness his fight with B.J. Penn, who had maintained close ties with the Gracie camp and was considered friendly with Diaz. That is, of course, until Penn had the gall to accept a fight with Diaz. Boy, was that a bad move. You'd have thought Diaz and Penn had been blood enemies for years, and it all culminated with Diaz taking a half-hearted swing at Penn during the weigh-in face-off.
It's the same with every opponent. If you're fighting Diaz, you're not competing against him. You're in a fight, and he hates you. There's something incredibly raw and entertaining about that. He's either a tad bit off-kilter, or he's the most brilliant showman in the history of mixed martial arts.
You make the call.
Diaz also makes fight week entertaining because you never quite know what he's going to do.
Will he show up for the pre-fight press conference? You'd like to think he will, but he's proven in the past that he does whatever he wants, and you can't count on his presence until he's up on the dais.
And even if he does show up, you're more likely to get rambling, non-sensical answers that are either completely confusing or have nothing to do with the question being asked or the fight at hand. Ask Diaz about his opponent's skills, and you might hear about how "they" are out to get him.
From anyone else, it would be annoying. From Diaz? It's just part of his charm, just one of the things that makes him one of the most intriguing characters in the sport.
Diaz is a world-class grappler, a Cesar Gracie black belt and a master of jiu-jitsu. And yet, when you sign up to see Diaz fight, you know you're not likely to see anything happen on the ground at all.
That's because Diaz likes to fight, and his version of fighting doesn't involve those vaunted grappling skills. Diaz likes to fight like they do back on the streets of Stockton, which means he wants to stand across from his opponent and trade punches.
And when Diaz punches, he does so with great volume and accuracy, making him one of the best boxers in the game. Famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach told Bleacher Report videographer Rick Lee that Diaz and his younger brother were the only two current MMA fighters who could succeed in the boxing world. That's high praise from one of the best.
Diaz doesn't look like he hits all that hard, but he overwhelms his opponents by stringing together combinations of high-volume punches. It's constant movement and frenetic energy, and it's highly entertaining.
If you're fighting Diaz, you better bring your A-game, and that A-game better not consist of any wrestling or spinning stuff or anything besides striking.
Fighting Diaz must be an unnerving experience, even for his most veteran of opponents.
That's because Diaz, in addition to his constant stream of punches, is also a constant talker. From the moment the bell rings, Diaz starts yapping away, unleashing a torrent of trash talk while punching you in the face and body hundreds of times.
Diaz doesn't solely utilize verbal trash-talking, though. He's also known for throwing his arms up in the air, sticking his chin out and generally mocking his opponents without mercy. It's one of the traits that have turned him into one of the most popular fighters in the sport.
He's a master of the expletive, too. For fighters who are used to facing quiet and respectful opponents, an encounter with Diaz must seem like a very strange thing indeed.
For everything I've written about Diaz since his suspension began—and I stand by every word of it, because I believe that despite the rule that got him suspended in the first place, it's still a fighter's job to abide by the written rules—I still believe him to be one of the very best fighters in the world.
Sure, he's coming off a loss to Condit. But that came against a fighter who executed a masterful (and boring) game plan. In other words, it was the exception to the rule rather than the rule itself.
I firmly believe that when Diaz returns, he's going to establish himself as a top welterweight contender yet again, setting up a potential big-money fight with Georges St-Pierre at some point in 2013.
St-Pierre may fight Anderson Silva, or he may not. And Johny Hendricks is certainly ahead of Diaz in the pecking order. But Diaz's fame is such—and his loss to Condit controversial enough—that he'll need to win just one fight before being put in a title fight against St-Pierre.
That fight was the reason they brought Diaz over from Strikeforce to begin with, and 2013 will finally see it come to fruition.
On top of that, Diaz is just plain entertaining. He's one of the most interesting characters in the sport, sure, but he's also incredibly charismatic and just plain good in the cage. It's been a long year without Diaz around to cause chaos and confusion, and I look forward to seeing him step back in the Octagon as soon as he possibly can.